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What Greta Thunberg Got Wrong And How Marketers Can Learn From Her Mistakes

Greta Thunberg.

When I say the name in my head, I think of the TED Talk, I think of the signs that say “Strike for Climate,” I think of activism, and I think of the small, quiet, Swedish girl who had the guts to demand change.

Greta Thunberg is an inspiration.

Climate change is a genuine problem our world is facing, and Greta brought it upon herself to show the world how important this problem is.

She has gone where few have dared go, she had done what few have dared do, and she has said what few have dared to say.

She is seen as a hero to many.

But Greta is also human.

And she has made mistakes.

Today I am going to show you the mistakes that she made, what she should have done differently, how we can avoid the same mistakes, and how we can learn and grow from what she did.

Greta Told Us That We Should Be Ashamed of Ourselves

Greta’s main claim to fame is that she fearlessly challenges politicians and government leaders to take action around climate change. From the time the world came to know of her, she has taken a solid stance on climate action.

You have probably seen pictures of her shouting into a mic at a conference of political officials or sitting on the sidewalk with her “Strike for School” sign.

She is always angry.

Angry at the inaction of political figures, angry that our world nearing environmental doomsday, and angry that the children of today will suffer from climate change in the future.

I remember when I first watched her TED Talk. As I listened to the passion in her voice, I began to get angry too. I began to see how lacking the political figures were and how much urgency was needed to make a change.

Her anger was contagious.

But, unfortunately, it was also unproductive.

While it took incredible courage and poise to directly challenge the politicians of not just her country but of other nations as well, Greta’s passion did not change much.

New laws were made and some action was taken, but on the whole, nothing much changed.

This is because while the people and politicians made marginal changes to try to appease her desires, they had not been completely inspired. They still did not claim the identity of being sustainable, conscious of the future, or environmentally caring.

In essence, Greta told us to be ashamed of ourselves for how we were treating the natural world. And in response, many did the bare minimum to ease the shame they felt from Greta’s comments. And while the awareness of climate change has skyrocketed, the ultimate goal of having laws that build sustainable communities is still just out of reach.

Next, let’s look at a different approach to conservation. One that was much more successful, and one that kept shame and anger completely out of the picture.

Paul Butler Told Us That We Should Be Proud

My guess is not many know the name, Paul Butler.

That’s okay.

Paul Butler, the godfather of the conservation organization Rare, is, simply put, a conservationist.

His claim to fame came from his work on the island of St. Lucia as he strived to save the critically endangered St. Lucia parrot.

In the 1907’s Paul was asked by the forestry department of the Caribbean island St. Lucia to help them save their parrots. The species population size at the time was around 150 in total.

Paul had helped other communities across the world bring back animals from the brink of extinction, so this was not his first time in the world of endangered species conservation, but it certainly wasn’t an easy task.

To set the stage, the local people of St. Lucia were destroying vast areas of the forests that the St. Lucia parrots relied on for survival, collecting many as pets, and hunting many more for food. And while people understood that the parrot population was shrinking, there were very few regulations around deforestation and only a $5 penalty for killing the birds.

What Paul did to save the parrots was both intuitive and counterintuitive at the same time.

The intuitive aspect of his work was that one of the first things changes he made was updating the regulations, increasing the penalties, and creating a sanctuary for the parrots.

But that was not all he did. And it certainly wasn’t what he was remembered for. Instead of just enforcing new laws in the community, Paul helped the people of St. Lucia develop a love for their parrot.

He reminded the St. Lucia people that they should be proud because the beautiful St. Lucia parrot did not exist anywhere else in the world but on their island.

He organized events around the bird to highlight its beauty, created a parrot mascot, and even helped put the image of the St. Lucia parrot on bumper stickers, billboards, newspapers, and clothing.

As time wore on, the people of St. Lucia started appreciating and protecting their parrots and the parrot population size began to grow.

So, what did Greta and Paul do differently?

Greta used criticism.

Paul used encouragement.

How This Applies To The World of Marketing

In two articles that I read while writing this blog — one by the Harvard Business Review and one by Buffer — I realized that while criticism often seems to make an immediate change, encouragement is what produces effective long-term results.

So, how does this apply to the world of marketing?

Greta and Paul were both trying to sell an idea. And because of that, I think that a lot can be learned from their marketing approaches.

Whether you are trying to sell a brand, a product, or an idea, remember that encouragement, not criticism, will make a bigger impact.

Now both Greta’s and Paul’s approach had their pros and cons.

Greta’s approach had immense traction and raised a lot of awareness. Her efforts resulted in immediate action but did not drive lasting change.

Paul’s approach was much more reserved and existed well under the radar of most people. His efforts took several years to see the results but will last until the unforeseeable future.

Most organizations trying to market an idea, brand, or product would choose Greta’s approach. The scale and immediate action are appealing. But don’t rule out Paul’s approach. Slow and steady wins the race not just in fables, but in real life too.

Consider Apple.

That company has, over many years, grown into a powerhouse.

Want a phone? Go to Apple. Want a computer? Go to Apple. Want to pay without carrying a card with you? Use Apple Pay. Want to watch a movie? You can even use Apple for that too.

I know. I use Apple as an example in almost every one of my blogs. But so much can be learned from their marketing genius.

Apple did not get to where they are now by seeking immediate, but temporary, sales. And they did not shame people into buying their products

They slowly encouraged people and inspired them over time. Nowadays, most people won’t know why they choose Apple products over another company. They just feel safer, more at peace, with Apple.

Because Apple chose encouragement over criticism.

So, if you want to market in a way that will outlive you, consider Paul Butler, the bespectacled parrot man, and chose to encourage.


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